Friday, December 28, 2018

Jake's 2018 Achievements


Small break in the synopsis series this week to look at my 2018 summary. It can be easy to fall into the trap of feeling like the year flew by too fast, and you got nothing done.

I certainly felt that way until I looked back through my bujo and marked off all the important milestones I reached in 2018. Looking back on this year, I can see it was actually a huge and fantastic year, and I am very proud of all the things I have achieved:


- Came out as transgender
- Fell pregnant with first child
- Wrote 600k+
- Read 27 books (Not counting Aurealis)
- Edited 650+ pages
- Changed Legal Name to Jake Corvus
- New personal best: 10, 500 words in a single day
- Paid off house mortgage in full
- Brought a new car (Suzuki Vitara)
- Judged Aurealis Awards (Fantasy Novel Category)
- Launched my newsletter and new Website
- Taken on new role as President of Vision Writers
- Found new medication that decreased my migraines by 3/4.
- Finished 10 first drafts.

Books I Read In 2018:

- The Cruel Prince – Holly Black
Enjoyed this immensely. It didn't really kick off for me until about half way through, but then it really kicked off. And what a title.

- Happiness By Design – Paul Dolan
            I highly recommend this for anyone who likes psychology, sociology or who wants to be happy.

- Your First 1000 Copies – Tim Grahl
            Lots of good information and got me fired up about self promotion.

- In Other Lands – Sarah Rees Brennan
            Subversive and just plain awesome attack on YA genre fiction. Read it.

- The Happiness Project – Gretchen Ruben
            Ruben shares her experiences as she implements a 12 months 'be happier' plan in her life. A lot of useful insights, if a little self centered.

- The One Thing – Gary Keller
            I really enjoyed this book, but I don't like to bring it up, because inevitably someone who hasn't read it will say its stupid based on their incorrect understanding of the premise. If you want to be really awesome, read it. Don't listen to the people self-righteously bitching about it.

- Sick House – Jeff Strand
            I honestly hate Jeff Stand books. I buy them and read them and hate every moment of it, then buy more. He's fantastic at narrative traction, terrible at plot, characters, and everything else. I plan to buy more of his books and then bitch about how bad they are next year.

- Three Moments of An Explosion – China Mieville
            You either 'get' China Mieville or you don't. If you are going to read his stuff, start with 'Looking for Jake'. If you love it, go nuts with the rest of his novels. If you don't, just move on with your life. Personally, I idolise him with a passion that borders on blasphemy.

- 7 Steps to Wealth – John Fitzgerald
            Not as good as 'The Barefoot Investor by Scott Pape', but if you have read The Barefoot Investor and are still hungry for more, this is pretty good. I like books on personal finance.

- Nevermoor – Jessica Townsend
            A great example of working with tropes. Townsend uses tropes and clich├ęs as a form of literary shorthand to skip the 'boring bits' and focus on the more interesting parts. I enjoyed it as a learning/stylistic tool. The descriptions and language were gorgeous.

- Strangers to Superfans – David Gaughran
            Fantastic book for authors on self-promotion. Recommended.

- Gentleman's Guide To Vice and Virtue – MacKenzi Lee
            I wanted to love this, but the main character is so insufferably self-centred and selfish, I couldn't get into it. If you want to read a teen gay romance about a narcissist, this one is for you.

- The Death Collector – Jack Kerley
            Thriller novel that reveals more about the author's sexual fetishes than he probably intended. Every single woman in this book was described as looking EXACTLY THE SAME. I think I counted eight different tall red-heads by the end of the book. Come on, bro.

- The Kept Woman – Karin Slaughter
            I love all the Will Trend books. If you want to read Karin Slaughter, start with Triptych. Don't read the Grant Gounty books, Jeffery is human garbage.

- Rules and Regulations for Mediating Myth and Magic – F.T Lukes
            Worst title for a YA this year. Could never remember it, so I never recommended it to anyone. Pretty cute gay romance. Main character is a bit self-centred and oblivious, but I could get past it.

- The One Page Marketing Plan – Allan Dib
            Good book on marketing and self-promotion for authors. Recommended.

- The One Hour Content Plan – Meera Kothand
            Good book on generating content for your blog and newsletter. Recommended.

- Your First 100 Repeat Customers – Meera Kothand
            Almost identical content to Allan Dib's One Page Marketing plan. I prefer Dib's.

- Simplify – Joshua Becker
            Short and pointless guide to simplifying your life. Don't bother.

- Making Websites Win – Karl Blanks
            This beast is DENSE and targeted at big companies, not authors. However, if you enjoy this sort of thing, and are good at extrapolating, then I still recommend it. I learned a lot.

- Fence 1-12 – C.S Pacat
            Queer sports comic series. The first few are significantly better than the later editions. I will be using the first four to demonstrate various writing skills for many years to come. However, you can see where time pressures started to affect the quality of the story and art.

- Coffee Boy – Austin Chant
            Sweet transman/man office romance. I really liked it. If you like queer romance, you will also probably like it.

- Write and Grow Rich – Alinka Ruthowska
            A collection of interviews with best-selling authors, talking about how they became successful, what their biggest mistake was and what make the biggest impact on their career. Most of these authors are nonfiction, not fiction. I found it quite reassuring, since different people had different methods.

- Help! My Facebook Ads Suck – Micheal Cooper
            Good book on marketing and self-promotion on facebook for authors. Recommended.

- Barefoot Investor for Families – Scott Pape
            A must if you have kids or grandkids.

- Friday Black – Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah
            Excellent collection of speculative fiction short stories. Highly recommend. Several of these stories still haunt me and I think about them regularly.

ROLL ON 2019

Obviously next year my biggest goal is having a healthy baby in February and looking after him. However, being a new, single dad hasn't prevented me from writing a pretty extensive list of goals I am hoping to achieve.

Primary Goals For 2019:

- Have a baby.
- Get back to my pre-pregnancy goal weight.
- Build house #2.
- Complete 2 solo first drafts.
- Have two new books edited and ready to pitch/sell.
- Build my newsletter to 500 subscribers.

I also have another 9 'optional' goals to work on. Overly ambitious? Always. To be honest, even though I have had an insanely productive year in 2018, I don't think I achieved any of my goals. This was because they were tied to specific projects—which I had to put aside for other things—and weight loss, and, unsurprisingly, at 8 months pregnant, I can't maintain my pre-pregnancy goal weight. In fact, I am about ten kilograms heavier, which is honestly not that bad.

I don't know how having a baby is going to affect my time, just that it will, and that I will need to reorganise my days around Esteban and his requirements. I know there is going to be a learning curve, but I am as prepared as I can be.

Roll on 2019!

And don’t forget to sign up to my hilariously inappropriate newsletter at It contains book news, stories too personal for facebook, movie reviews and when you first sign up, you get the full, unabridged version of the chicken story.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Character Mistakes You Can't Afford To Make

Synopsis Series: Part 5

Welcome back! This week we continue with character profiles and how to set them up so you create characters readers never forget. You can re-read last weeks post, with the full profile template here.

Starting With Your Villain

One of the most unforgivable mistakes I see amateur writers making is 1) not having a villain, 2) not having a well thought out villain or 3) having a villain who only appears at the end of the book.

Your villain is as, if not more, important than your hero. Why? Because your villain drives the action of the plot. And more importantly, your hero is only as brave as the conflicts they face. The more evil and dangerous your villain, the braver and more impressive your hero is. A villain we never see, and know nothing about, isn’t scary, so by contrast, your hero isn’t very impressive.

This is why I tell writers I am mentoring to start with their villain profile, not their main character. Your villain will be driving the plot, creating stakes and tension. So their motives, strengths, weaknesses, goals and growth arc all need to come first.

I will note, some novels do not have traditional villains. That is to say, the villain may not be a person. Villain is just anther word for antagonist though and every story has to have some form of antagonist. So look for yours and see how it can be expanded.

In romance, particularly short romances, the ‘villain’ is often the love interest themselves. They are the antagonists to the protagonist. However there should always be another conflict in romance that makes the love interest the antagonist. Some sort of conflicting interest or belief. Longer romance titles will often have another villain, or even two or three. Someone the couple must work together to overcome and defeat.

In The Grey (2011) starring Liam Neeson, there are three main antagonists. First, there is the weather, which brings down the plane and is a constant and unrelenting threat. There is the terrain itself, both an obstacle and a threat in its own right. And there is the pack of wolves, given a face in the form of the alpha wolf, which Neeson’s character develops deep hostile recognition with, as the movie progresses.

These antagonists are introduced early and in escalating conflicts. Talk of wolves and the storm happens before the plane takes off, we see the wolves before they attack and several times throughout the movie. If the only time we saw them was at the very end of the movie, in the final showdown, there would be no emotional tension in the viewer. Anticipation and development build to the climax, giving it impact.

Regardless of what your villain is, person, love interest or force of nature, they still need to be fully developed, introduced early and build up in escalating conflicts.

So as you go forward in this post, don’t think about filling in these sections of a profile for your main character, think about filling them in for your villain FIRST. Save that plucky little hero for second.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Here’s a writing element that some people just understand innately, and some people never learn and just continue to fail at for years, never understanding why their work isn’t popular or doesn’t sell.

Characters need to have a strength and a weakness, and in the course of the novel, their weakness needs to cause them to fail, and then has to be overcome, and their strength has to be tested to breaking point.

These elements need to happen in critical turning points of your novel, such as the climax.

Now, you are either saying to yourself ‘that makes sense’ or ‘what the hell are you talking about, Jake?’. That will tell you which group of people you belong to.

So when you are listing your characters strengths and weaknesses, don’t just write an inert list. Write how they are critical to the plot. If your character’s strength is that they are brave, there must be a scene where you push them so hard that bravery cracks, and they are afraid. If their weakness is greed, there has to be a scene where they give into that greed and betray what matters to them. Then, later on, there must be a scene where they overcome that greed and make the right choice.

The exception here is villains and books with sad/bittersweet endings. What separates your hero from your villain is usually that second look at their weakness. Where your hero makes the right choice, and chooses love and equality and righteousness, your villain chooses power, and greed and selfishness. That is their downfall. Your villain should also easily overcome the testing of their strength.

Your villain must always be strong and powerful. Much, much more powerful than your hero. Otherwise, your hero is just a bully.

Desires and Barriers

Both your hero and your villain’s desires are the meat of the plot. So if you don’t know what they are, you don’t really have a plot. In Harry Potter, Tom Riddle and Harry Potter were both denied love, acceptance and a family. Tom Riddle became Voldemort, seeking power and revenge—a revenge he unfairly directed at a minority. Harry came to Hogwarts seeking the family he had lost, but takes a different route to Tom, choosing friends, protecting others and standing up for the weak. In the end Voledemort dies and Harry lives and gets his new family.

Your hero and villain’s desires have to be in conflict with each other. They don’t have to want the same thing, but their desires have to be incompatible. This is what puts them at odds with one and other, and forces them to confront each other.

It is important to remember your reader will always care less than your character. So your character has to care about their goal more than anything else. They have to be willing to sacrifice everything for it. There is nothing entertaining about a character who is too cool to care. Because if your character doesn’t care, why does the reader? What are they reading for, if it doesn’t even matter to the main character and its their life?

So your hero and villain both need to want something so badly they are willing to die for it. Or, at least, make big sacrifices. And their desires need to contradict one and other. It is okay if your character starts wanting one thing, and then switches to the main thing very early in the book.

For example, Katniss doesn’t want to be a part of the hunger games, but she wants her sister Prim to be safe even more. For the rest of the series she is torn between those two desires. Her desire to stay alive, and her even more pressing desire to keep those she loves alive.

Once you know what your hero and villain want, you need to know why they want it. What do they get? Why does it matter to them? The reason needs to be believable and understandable. Even if a reader doesn’t want that thing themselves, they have to understand why your characters would sacrifice their own lives to have it.

Next, you need clear and seemingly insurmountable barriers to having the thing. Again, this is where your hero and villain will tie together, they should, at least in part, be the barrier stopping each other from reaching their goal.

And finally, what is the cost if they fail? There should be an internal/personal cost, and an external/global cost. EG: If the main character can’t find the cure, his daughter will die (personal) and the disease will continue to kill millions (global). Global doesn’t have to mean ‘world wide’ by the way. It could just mean all the animals on the farm die, as long as that is a stake you can make the reader care about deeply.

Growth Arc

Now we scroll back up the profile template to the growth arc. If you have done your strengths and weaknesses, and your character motivation and goals properly, this should be a breeze. Where does your character start, emotionally and physically, and where do they end up? How have they changed? What have they sacrificed?

They have either risen and overcome their challenges (hero) or sunk to depths they swore never to delve into (villain). They end the novel having made a great sacrifice to have come out victorious (hero), or their vice proved to be their downfall and they were defeated (villain).

The point of a growth arc is not just to know its there and working (though that its important), it is a tool that shows you how hard you need to press the point at different stages in your novel. If your character is reckless at the beginning, and becomes responsible during the story, then you know you need to play up their recklessness at the start, so there is a huge contrast at the end.

Contrast is the key word here. The bigger and clearer that difference is, beginning to end, the greater the sense of reader satisfaction will be.

Room Description

Why does room description matter? I am guessing most of you don’t give a lot of thought to your character’s rooms. I am going to give you three room descriptions and I want you to read them carefully and think about what sort of people probably live in them.

The window was open, letting in sunlight and a sping breeze that billowed the lace curtains. The bed was old and iron, but painted white, the duvet was a patchwork of pink and cream roses. On the antique dresser, was a vase of cheery pink carnations, fresh from the garden and beside them, neatly placed hairbrushes and hand mirrors.

The stink of stale BO and dirty socks was oppressive. Dark posters of angry men with guitars were pealing off the walls, with one lone pin up model from a calender tacked to the wall beside the unmade bed. Clothes—mostly black—dominated the floor in uneven piles. A stack of CDs had cascaded off the messy desk and spilled across the floor, their prismatic, silver undersides the only source of color.

Toys. Toys everywhere. On the shelves, on the bed, spilling off the dresser onto the floor. The bedroom closet was open, stuffed to bursting with tiny, brightly colored clothes, and still more toys, leaking off the shelves and piled up under the clothes, making it impossible to close the closet door. In the middle of the room, a half empty sippy-cup of juice and the crusts of toast, cold and forgotten.

There is no trick here. I’m not going to say ‘Surprise! Room three belongs to a serial killer.’ Rather, I want you to see how you can tell readers about a character by showing them where and how they live. Giving characters a room that reflects their personality gives them an anchor in he reality you have created. It gives them a past. If there are toys on the floor, it implies in the past they were placed there, played with. Flowers were cut recently, outside, so the scene has a past, and expands beyond the room you see. Little details imply other details, and they give your writing a sense of realism. A good room description can do that for your character, as well as your writing.

Don’t ignore it. Just don’t make it too long either.

Twenty Facts Expanded

Twenty facts is more of a brainstorming process for me. If I am struggling to write a list of twenty facts about a character, I clearly don’t know them very well. So it would be hard to write them realistically, or convincingly. It also means they don’t have enough depth. Some characters I could write fifty facts without pause. Others, I may realize I am struggling to even write the first three or four facts.

Brainstorming facts about characters has often given me directions and ideas for the plot, or solved problems in the plot that I was struggling with before. At the very least, it gives me a few flavor elements to keep the characters feeling like people.

Which is more interesting?

1. “Do you want to get pizza?”

2. “Do you want to get pizza?”
“No anchovies, the smell makes me gag.” OR “No mushrooms, they give me the worst gas.”

Maybe this seems small, but perhaps later on, your main character is trying to stop their partner eating a poisoned dish, but can’t talk to them, so they put a little sign on it saying ‘contains mushrooms’.

Or maybe their partner accidentally eats mushrooms and the toxic smell gives them away, which is more interesting than having them just knock something over. Things that gives a sense of continuity through the plot are more satisfying than things that just happen in that scene.

Are You Ready To Rumble!?

I hope you understand not just what you need in a profile, but why. The why is more important. If you understand why, you can alter this character template to suit your own needs and the genre of your book. But if you don’t understand why, you’re going to struggle, even to use this template correctly.

I’m always happy to help though, so if you are struggling, hit me up at jakecorvus at And don’t forget to sign up to my hilariously inappropriate newsletter at It contains book news, stories too personal for facebook, movie reviews and when you first sign up, you get the full, unabridged version of the chicken story.


1. Do You Struggle With What To Write Next?
2. The Five Core Parts Of A Good Synopsis
3. The Command Center of Your Novel
4. Characters Readers Remember Forever
5. Character Mistakes You Can't Afford To Make
6. Building An Empire

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Characters Readers Remember Forever

 Synopsis Series: Part 4

Characters Readers Remember Forever

Can you name five of your favorite characters from books? How about five of the best known ones? Have you heard of these characters? Harry Potter. Jon Snow. Katniss Everdeen. Bridget Jones. Bilbo Baggins.

The best characters are ones that never leave us. That become a part of popular culture. Writing a memorable character at that level without any planning or consideration is even rarer than winning the lottery. It would take one of a kind talent, paired with once in a lifetime luck. Do you really want to bet on either? Its a much better idea to learn about what makes a character memorable and lovable and fascinating before you begin writing the book, and plan to write those elements in from the beginning, so they are deeply intertwined with the narrative. Editing them in later, after all, will be almost impossible.

Laying A Foundation For Immortality

Character profiles are where you lay the foundation of what matters. Its not a place to record hair colour, eye colour, weight, height and freckle density. Though a few strong, defining physical features can make a character stand out in a reader’s mind, they aren’t what matters.

Did you like Harry Potter because he had green eyes? Or did you like him because he rose up from adversity to become a hero? Were you captivated by Katniss’ brown hair, or because she was willing to sacrifice her own life to save her little sister?

The important parts of a memorable character are not what they look like, but what they do. What they want. What they sacrifice. And its these elements that need to be at the core of your character profile. Not what they look like, but who they are, deep inside. What drives them. What are their limits? What makes them human? What makes them worthy of being a protagonist in a story?

As Always, Jake As A System For Everything

Over the years, I have developed an extensive character profile that I use to design characters prior to writing a novel. It makes my characters, and my plots, stronger, more lifelike and fills them with conflict and tension.

I am going to share it with you here, but don’t try and use it yet. This week I am discussing the layout, next week I will be discussing how to fill it in properly.


BOOK: (The working title of the book this character is in.)

Name: (Character name. First, last and any nick names.)
Age: (Character age at in chapter 1, though you might want to also include their age at the end of the last chapter, if it changes.)
Race: (This is more for fantasy and sci fi than contemporary fic. If I was doing contemp I would change this to ‘ethnic background’.)
Hair: (This is so you remember and keep it consistent but also, try to put a description here, not just a colour. EG: a loose black Grace Kelley bob. Salt and pepper, thinning on the top. Long, loose and gold, tangled and wild.)
Skin: (Skin tone, again, a description is better than a color. Remember not to describe dark skinned people as food. Its offensive. No coffee or chocolate, okay?)
Eyes: (Rather than color, try and focus on emotion with your eye description. Pale grey, with hard wrinkled lines from frowning. Wide, blue, bright and full of wonder.)
Magic: (Again, this is for fantasy/spec fic, not contemp. Depending on your setting, this could be extensive and cross into world building.)
Quirks/Turns of phrase: (If you see my post here on style: you will see I recommend giving characters their own distinct ‘voice’. This is where you make notes about that. This section can end up being quite long and extensive!)

Personality: (A lot of people list character traits here. Eg: brave, shy, funny, outgoing, etc. Do that if you have to, to give yourself an outline, but then after each trait give an example of HOW they show that trait. Nothing is worse than a book that tells you character is brave, but we never get to see them being brave. You can’t tell your reader anything regarding personality, you can only SHOW them. So do yourself a favor and work out some ways to show that trait now, not when you’re writing your first draft.)
Growth Arc: (Every character has to go through a developmental arc throughout the story. Maybe they start out shy and grow in confidence. Maybe they start out carefree and have all their innocence stripped away. You need to know where they start and where they end, before you start planning the novel in full. This is so you can set up point A very strongly, so point B has more impact. I remember C.S Pacat talking about her character Laurent in Captive Prince. She said she knew people needed to hate him at the start, and he had to win them over slowly as the novel progressed. She was still devastated everyone hated him when they started reading! And boy did they hate him. But by the end of the series, no one saw him as a bad guy anymore, everyone loved him.)

Four Descriptions: (These are short, active descriptions of the character as they would appear in the text. Try and make them very different and set under very different circumstances. I try and do them from different POVs. EG: someone who hates them, someone who admires them, the character happy, and the character in the height of a conflict.)

Room/Home description: (I will expand on this a lot in the next blog post, but your characters room says a lot about them. It is a character in its own right, so you need to expand on that.)

Family: (List any family members this character has, and make some notes about their interpersonal relationships.)

Greatest Strength: (These next sections are going to be the focus of next week’s blog post.)
Tested By:
Greatest Weakness:

Most Desires: (These too.)
What do they Gain?:
Barriers to Goal:
Cost of Failure (internal/external):

20 Facts about the character: (This may seem a bit pointless, but it has actually proved to be a vital part of my character and plot development. It promotes brainstorming and forces you to flesh out the character in your mind. Childhood incidents, favorite food and colors, interesting likes and dislikes, etc can all go here. Read through your character profiles regularly, and you will be able to add a lot of life and a sense of history and depth to characters by using these notes.)


So there it is, Jake’s character profile sheet. Is it what you expected? How does it compare to character profiles you have used in the past? If you are feeling a bit lost, don’t worry, I am going to expand on it next week. The most important parts of this profile are not explained at all right now, you have to wait until for the real magic! See you then!

And don’t forget to sign up to my hilariously inappropriate newsletter at It contains book news, stories too personal for facebook, movie reviews and when you first sign up, you get the full, unabridged version of the chicken story.


1. Do You Struggle With What To Write Next?
2. The Five Core Parts Of A Good Synopsis
3. The Command Center of Your Novel
4. Characters Readers Remember Forever
5. Character Mistakes You Can't Afford To Make
6. Building An Empire

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

The Command Center of Your Novel

 Synopsis Series: Part 3

Writing an overview sounds ridiculously simple, maybe so simple you wonder why it needs its own blog post at all. Depending on your experience level, it may be a lot harder than you think. It may even be impossible for you to do properly when you are starting out.

That is because a functional overview means you have to be pretty good at estimating how long scenes are going to be, and how long a novel will be, based on the plot points you create. Not everyone is good at this. In fact, few people are good at this at all.

How Much Content Do You Need For Novel?

The most common mistake I see first time writers making, is they write down their scenes and they think they have enough material for a long novel. Maybe even a trilogy. However in truth, they barely have enough story for a novella.

To remind you, an overview is the basic details of your novel structure. It should contain information such as the target audience, the genre, the intended word count, the number of chapters and the goal word count per chapter based on those two numbers. EG: 80,000 words, divided by 25 chapters is 3200 words per chapter.

So lets start at the beginning and work through your overview.

How Do You Set Up An Overview?

Your genre and target audience is the first thing you should know. You can take the exact same plot, same characters, same ending—but end up with completely different books if you are writing for teenagers VS adults. The tone, themes and focus will be different, even though the plot and characters can be exactly the same.

Sometimes people come to me asking for feedback, but can’t tell me who the target audience is. I find it almost impossible to give them feedback under those circumstances, because without knowing the target audience, there is no way for me to know what the feedback should be.

So first, you decide who your target audience is, and your genre. Remember, genre is just the primary emotion your reader wants to feel when reading. Romance = love. Horror = fear. Fantasy = awe. And so on. Genre is also where your book will be shelved in the book store. You want to be shelved with similar authors, so you can be found by your target audience.

How Long Should My Novel Be?

When you know your target audience and genre, you can get a rough idea of what your word count can be. Particularly if you want to sell commercially, with a traditional publisher or through book stores, you will need to stick within the genre norms. This is very easy to find out, simply google: ‘Average word count for GENRE.’ Be very aware that niche genres can vary a lot. Particularly in romance. While a typical historical romance might be up around 120, 000 words, a contemporary erotica romance might only average 60, 000 words. KNOW YOUR GENRE.

When you know the average word count for your genre and target audience, you can divide that into chapters. Thrillers often have quite short chapters. Fantasy novels tend to have longer chapters. If you aren’t sure how long the average chapters are for a genre, grab five of them off the shelf at the library. Google their word counts, then check what number the last chapter is. Divide the total word count by the chapters, and, tada! You have the number of words per chapter. If you do five of these and average them out, you will have a good idea of what is normal, comfortable and commercial.

The Complete Overview

So now your overview should be laid out something like this:


When you have this information, it will help you when building your plot. Because you will know how much content you need to fill a novel. Most writers should assume scenes are going to be shorter than you think. If you really have NO IDEA how long a scene will be, I suggest this:

Look at your scene description, maybe it says something like: ‘Keith breaks into the sealed room in the basement and finds the evil shrine, he starts to feel sick and the scene ends with him being rushed to hospital in an ambulance.’

Now, estimate how long that scene will be. Lets say, 1500 words. Now, write the scene, but write it so you can’t see the word count. If that means putting a small sticky note over the corner of the screen to hide the word count, so be it. Don’t try and write it to any length, just write the best scene you can. Then when it is done, compare the word count you estimated to the word count you have. Turns out, it was only 900 words long. Oops!

Do the same thing next time, and the time after. Keep doing it until you find you have a more accurate grasp of how long scenes are. Just remember, your goal is to accurately try and gauge how long a scene will be if WRITTEN WELL. Your goal is NEVER to extend a minimal idea to fit a higher word count. That is bad writing and will ultimately lead to boring scenes that drag terribly.

When you get to writing your simple synopsis, you will need to make sure there are roughly enough scenes for the number of chapters you want. Even if you have reasonably short chapters, its a good idea to have two, or even three plot points per chapter. You also want to consider ending your chapters in the middle of scenes, on cliff-hangers, instead of ending them where the scene ends naturally. This entices readers to keep reading, instead of putting the book down and leaving to do other things.

Knowing how many chapters you will have, makes it easier to structure your novel to make it hard to put down.

What If I Can’t Stick To The Plan?

It DOES NOT MATTER if while writing the first draft, this initial plan goes out the window a bit. Maybe you add more chapters, maybe you cut some out. Maybe you end up with a word count that is a bit off what you thought it would be. As long as you aren’t under contract, there is no one to disappoint. However later in your career, when you are under contract, these things can cause big problems. So its a good idea to start practicing planning and estimating novel length early on.

This practice of planning a overview will also help you if you want to write for specific imprints of publishing houses. Many imprints, particularly in romance, have strict guidelines when it comes to word counts. If everything is planned out before you begin writing, then you don’t have to worry about vastly lengthening or shortening a novel that is the wrong length for the imprint you are writing for.

Stay tuned, because next week we’re going to start character profiles! And I bet you a dollar, everything you think you know about character profiles is wrong.

And don’t forget to sign up to my hilariously inappropriate newsletter at It contains book news, stories too personal for facebook, movie reviews and when you first sign up, you get the full, unabridged version of the chicken story.


1. Do You Struggle With What To Write Next?
2. The Five Core Parts Of A Good Synopsis
3. The Command Center of Your Novel
4. Characters Readers Remember Forever
5. Character Mistakes You Can't Afford To Make
6. Building An Empire

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The Five Core Parts Of A Good Synopsis

 Synopsis Series: Part 2

I keep taking about ‘proper’ synopsises, but in truth there are many fantastic ways to do a synopsis and they can be quite different. What I am talking in this blog series is how I do synopises, so lets call it ‘The Jake Corvus Method’.

What Are The Parts Of A Synopsis Using The Jake Corvus Method?

1. Overview - Your overview gives you the basic details of your novel structure. It should contain information such as the target audience, the genre, the intended word count, the number of chapters and the goal word count per chapter based on those two numbers. EG: 80,000 words, divided by 25 chapters is 3200 words per chapter. This will help you balance your scenes later on in planning. You will not have to stick to this word or chapter count exactly, its just a guideline. It will help you produce a manuscript that is the right length and format for your target audience.

2. Character Profiles - Eye color, hair color, height, right? Nope. Character profiles are critical, but probably not in the way you think, or in the way you are used to writing them. By all means, you can jot down some notes about appearance so they don’t change half way through the book. However the real core of character profiles is motivations, goals and stakes. Your novel plot revolves around the conflicting goals and desires of your hero and your villain. So starting with these elements, weaving them into the character before you begin writing so they are central to their very being, will give you a stronger, more appealing story. Your villain (and sub villain!) profiles will be even more important than your main characters. No one being mentored by me is ever going to have the problem of getting half way through a book and realizing they have no proper antagonist!

3. World Building - Depending on the genre and locale of your novel’s setting, this could either be huge and complicated, or reasonably simple. If your novel takes place in a contemporary setting, particularly somewhere you are familiar with, this might only consist of some local maps, photos and a few details you need to keep straight in your head. If you are creating a setting from scratch, such as a fantasy or sci fi universe, it could be long and extensive. Any setting you create from scratch has to have the diversity and infrastructure in place to feel realistic. That means a realistic ecosystem (dragons are all well and good, but there has to be a reliable food source for them!) and fantasy cities need to deal with the realities of mundane life. How does a floating city provide enough food for all its people? If a city is underground, where does all the sewerage go? What happens when the surface floods? There can be a lot to think about!

4. Simple Synopsis
- This is a bullet point list of scenes, largely used for brainstorming and putting things in order before you start your detailed synopsis. If you have written a synopsis before, it probably looked very similar to what I call a simple synopsis. In short, a simple synopsis is where you brainstorm all the scenes you want in the book, and give them a 1-2 line summary, and put them in roughly the order you want them to occur. The real work comes in the next part, the detailed synopsis.

5. Detailed Synopsis - This is the big meaty, sometimes scary part of the synopsis. You may look at the other four items on the list and think: ‘What is left? Surely I already have a synopsis now!’. Not even close. The detailed synopsis is where the real work starts. Its also where the MAGIC starts. In our detailed synopsis, we aren’t just going to cover what happens in scenes and why, we’re going to track our narrative traction, our emotional beats, the two purposes of each scene and the character arc of each character in the scene. But don’t worry, each of those elements will have its own dedicated blog post. When we are finished this blog series, you aren’t going to feel overwhelmed, you are going to feel like an expert. And you’re going to have the best damn novel synopsis you have ever written in your life.


And don’t forget to sign up to my amazing mailing list at It contains book news, stories too personal for facebook, movie reviews and when you first sign up, you get the full, unabridged version of the chicken story!


1. Do You Struggle With What To Write Next?
2. The Five Core Parts Of A Good Synopsis
3. The Command Center of Your Novel
4. Characters Readers Remember Forever
5. Character Mistakes You Can't Afford To Make
6. Building An Empire

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Do You Struggle With What To Write Next?

Synopsis Series: Part 1

Tell me if this sounds familiar. You have a few hours set aside to do some writing. You sit down with a coffee or tea and re-read the past couple of pages. You have a vague idea of where the scene is going and what happens after that, but when it comes to writing the actual words… nothing.

You struggle to get the scene right for a few hours, and the end of of your writing session, you have only written a few hundred words. And you’re not even sure they’re good words. You really love your story, but when it comes to getting it down on paper, its just so hard.

Other writers seem to get much higher word counts, it seems like they are just better at thinking than you are. You’re pretty sure there’s nothing you can do about it, its just how you are.

The truth is, its probably not ‘how you are’, rather you’re just not working with a proper synopsis.

What is a synopsis?

In the context of a novel a synopsis can refer to two things:

1. A plan and scene-by-scene break down of your entire book that you use as a guide to write it.

2. A plot summary you give to agents and publishers so they have an overview of your story without having to read the whole thing.

While these seem similar and both called synopsis, they are not the same thing. If you think your synopsis can be used for both of these, you either have a terrible book plan to write off, or a terrible summary to give to agents and editors, or more than likely, both.

But that’s okay, its rare to meet an author who is good at either!

Maybe you don’t like working from a synopsis, and you’re ready to stop reading now, but stick with me to the end. Give me a chance to change your mind. Lets look at the pros and cons of writing with a proper synopsis.


- Boredom: Knowing what is going to happen just makes the book boring to write.

- Hard work: Writing a good synopsis takes time and hard word, its much more fun to just start writing.

- Inflexibility: You’ll end up torturing the plot to keep it in line with the synopsis, rather than letting it flow naturally.


- Productivity: Knowing what will happen next means massive word counts.

- Easy-breezy Writing: All the hard work has been done before you start writing the first draft.

- Less Editing: Plot holes are patched, character arcs are complete and in place, stakes, conflict and tension are all clear and easy to follow building to a breathtaking climax, all before you begin.

- Less Wasted Time: If a story just doesn’t work, you find out before you start writing, instead of 12 months later when you have a complete first draft that is unsalvageable.

- Industry Preparedness - The first time you sell a book, you have to write the whole book first. However by your fifth book, you will be signing contracts based on a synopsis, and you have to be able to deliver a novel based on the synopsis you have provided!

How Can A Synopsis Make You A Better Writer?

Imagine you sit down to write for the day. You have the same few hours as last time, but today you have a detailed, complete synopsis for your novel. You read it through before you begin for the day and then you start writing right away, no need to sit and think about what is going to happen next.

The tension between your two main characters is almost unbearable, but you know you need to hold it for two more chapters, when it will have the biggest emotional impact. You know even though it seems like they are never going to forgive each other, everything is going to turn around when they confront the villain and the truth is revealed. So you can focus all your attention in this scene on raising the stakes and adding the finishing touches to your red herring, that you started setting up in chapter two.

Its a very convincing red herring and you are certain your readers are going to be shocked at the reveal. Even though you know the twist, you are excited about writing it. Its just so clever! You’re proud of yourself for coming up with it. And you’re proud of the incredible tension and high stakes in this scene. If you didn’t have a synopsis, you would struggle for weeks to come up with a way out of this crisis for your characters, and you’d run the risk of it being a bit deus ex machina. But since it was all planned in the synopsis stage, you have been able to thread in all the parts you need from the beginning. You know it will feel clever instead of slapdash.

The conflict between your characters is so intense it almost brings you to tears, but you finish the day having easily written over 1000 words per an hour. You’ve completed another scene and you’re excited about the scenes to come. Even though you know what will happen, writing is so much fun when its easy and you leave every session with 3000 more words!

Does that could like a good writing day? When I am mentoring writers, I find it much more productive to give feedback on a synopsis than the novel itself. Ideally, I would always be working with someone on their synopsis /before they begin writing/, not after, when they have a whole novel to fix.

In part, that is why I am writing this blog series. So you can learn how to fix all the problems with your novel BEFORE YOU WRITE IT.

If you write a synopsis, get feedback, address all the issues, get feedback again and keep repeating until the synopsis is solid and plot hole free, THEN write the novel, the only editing you will need to do is typos and stylistic stuff. Yes, synopsis are hard work, and yes, they aren’t always fun to write (I actually love writing them, so don’t assume you will hate it, you might love it too when you learn how to do it properly!), but they save you so much time, pain, frustration and heartache in the long run, I think its crazy to write without one.

Over the next eleven weeks, I am going to show you HOW to write a synopsis, so that your novel is successful before you even start writing it.

Stay tuned, because next week is part two: The 5 Parts Of A Synopsis.


And don’t forget to sign up to my amazing mailing list at It contains book news, stories too personal for facebook, movie reviews and when you first sign up, you get the full, unabridged version of the chicken story!


1. Do You Struggle With What To Write Next?
2. The Five Core Parts Of A Good Synopsis
3. The Command Center of Your Novel
4. Characters Readers Remember Forever
5. Character Mistakes You Can't Afford To Make
6. Building An Empire